Laurent Gbagbo (Gagnoa Bété: Gbagbo [ɡ͡baɡ͡bo]; French pronunciation: [loʁɑ̃ baɡbo]; born 31 May 1945) was the President of Côte d'Ivoire from 2000 until his arrest in April 2011.
A historian by profession, as well as an amateur chemist and physicist, Gbagbo was imprisoned in the early 1970s and again in the early 1990s, and he lived in exile in France during much of the 1980s as a result of his union activism. Gbagbo founded the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) in 1982 and ran unsuccessfully for President against Félix Houphouët-Boigny at the start of multi-party politics in 1990. He also won a seat in the National Assembly of Côte d'Ivoire in 1990.
Gbagbo claimed victory after Robert Guéï, head of a military junta, barred other leading politicians from running in the October 2000 presidential election. The Ivorian people took to the streets, toppling Guéï. Gbagbo was then installed as President.
Following the 2010 presidential election, Gbagbo challenged the vote count, alleging fraud. He called for the annulment of results from nine of the country's regions. Alassane Ouattara was declared the winner and was recognized as such by election observers, the international community, the African Union (AU), and the Economic Community of West African States. However, the Constitutional Council, which according to Article 94 of the Ivorian Constitution both determines disputes in and proclaims the results of Presidential elections, declared that Gbagbo had won. After a short period of civil conflict, Gbagbo was arrested by backers of Alassane Ouattara, supported by French Forces of "Operation Unicorn". In November 2011, he was extradited to the International Criminal Court, becoming the first head of state to be taken into the court's custody.
Early life and academic career
Laurent Gbagbo was born on 31 May 1945 in the village of Mama, near Gagnoa in the then French West Africa. He became a history professor and an opponent of the regime of President Félix Houphouët-Boigny. He was imprisoned from 31 March 1971 to January 1973. In 1979, he obtained his doctorate at Paris Diderot University. In 1980, he became Director of the Institute of History, Art, and African Archeology at the University of Abidjan. He participated in a 1982 teachers' strike as a member of the National Trade Union of Research and Higher Education. Gbagbo went into exile in France.
During the 1982 strike, Gbagbo formed what would become the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI). The FPI vowed to restore modernization in the country, by building infrastructure, transport, communication, water and clean energy. He returned to Côte d'Ivoire on 13 September 1988 and at the FPI's constitutive congress, held on 19–20 November 1988, he was elected as the party's Secretary-General.
Gbagbo said in July 2008 that he had received crucial support from Blaise Compaoré, formerly the President of Burkina Faso, while he was part of the underground opposition to Houphouët-Boigny.
Following the introduction of multiparty politics in 1990, Gbagbo challenged Houphouët-Boigny in the October 1990 presidential election. Gbagbo contended that Houphouët-Boigny, who was either 85 or 90 years old (depending on the source), was not likely to survive a seventh five-year term. This failed to resonate with voters, and Gbagbo officially received 18.3% of the vote against Houphouët-Boigny. In the November 1990 parliamentary election, Gbagbo won a seat in the National Assembly, along with eight other members of the FPI; Gbagbo was elected to a seat from Ouragahio District in Gagnoa Department and was President of the FPI Parliamentary Group from 1990 to 1995. In 1992 he was sentenced to two years in prison and charged with inciting violence, but was released later in the year. The FPI boycotted the 1995 presidential election. In 1996 Gbagbo was re-elected to his seat in the National Assembly from Ouragahio, following a delay in the holding of the election there, and in the same year he was elected as President of the FPI.
At the FPI's 3rd Ordinary Congress on 9–11 July 1999, Gbagbo was chosen as the FPI's candidate for the October 2000 presidential election. That election took place after a December 1999 coup in which retired general Robert Guéï took power. Guéï refused to allow his predecessor as president, Henri Konan Bédié, or former prime minister Alassane Ouattara to run, leaving Gbagbo as the only significant opposition candidate. Guéï claimed victory in the election, held on 22 October 2000. However, after it emerged that Gbagbo had actually won by a significant margin, street protests forced Guéï to flee the capital. Gbagbo installed himself as President on 26 October.
On 19 September 2002 a revolt by northerners (mainly foreign Muslims) against Gbagbo's government partly failed. The rebels, calling themselves the "Forces Nouvelles," attempted to seize the cities of Abidjan, Bouaké, and Korhogo. They failed to take Abidjan, but were successful in the other two making total massacres of non supporters and non Muslims, respectively in the center and north of the country. Their grievances were that their mentor, Alassane Ouattara, had been barred from running in the 2000 presidential election, having been declared by the supreme court, the laws of the country of not being a real Ivoirian.
The peace agreement effectively collapsed in early November 2004 following elections that critics claimed were undemocratic and the rebels' subsequent refusal to disarm. During an airstrike in Bouaké on 6 November 2004, nine French soldiers were killed. While the Ivorian government has claimed the attack on the French soldiers was accidental, French governmental sources claimed it was deliberate and responded by destroying most Ivorian military aircraft.
With the late October deadline approaching in 2006, it was regarded as very unlikely that the election would in fact be held by that point, and the opposition and the rebels rejected the possibility of another term extension for Gbagbo. The UN Security Council endorsed another one-year extension of Gbagbo's term on 1 November 2006; to not forget, many of the rebels held their guns and were prepared to advance again, however, the resolution provided for the strengthening of Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny's powers. Gbagbo said the next day that elements of the resolution deemed to be constitutional violations would not be applied.
A peace deal between the government and the rebels, or New Forces, was signed on 4 March 2007, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and subsequently Guillaume Soro, leader of the New Forces, became Prime Minister. Those events were seen by some observers as substantially strengthening Gbagbo's position.
Gbagbo visited the north for the first time since the outbreak of the war for a disarmament ceremony, the "peace flame", on 30 July 2007. This ceremony involved burning weapons to symbolize the end of the conflict. At the ceremony, Gbagbo declared the war over and said that the country should move quickly to elections, which were then planned for early 2008.
On 30 August 2008, Gbagbo was designated the FPI's candidate for the November 2008 presidential election at a party congress; he was the only candidate for the FPI nomination. The presidential election was again postponed to 2010.
2010 presidential election and succession crisis
In 2010, Côte d'Ivoire had a presidential election that saw Gbagbo face off with Alassane Ouattara. Gbagbo, whose mandate had expired in 2005, had delayed the election several times.
On 28 November 2010, the second round of the presidential election was held. Four days later the Independent Election Commission (CEI) declared Alassane Ouattara the winner with 54.1% of the vote. Gbagbo's party complained of fraud and ordered that votes from nine regions occupied by the ex-rebels "became FN after the Ouagadougou agreement" be annulled, but the claims were disputed by the Ivorian Electoral Commission and international election observers. The Constitutional Council, in accordance with its legal powers in article 94 of the Ivorian Constitution nullified the CEI's declaration based on alleged voting fraud, and excluded votes from nine northern areas. The Constitutional Council concluded that without these votes Gbagbo won with 51% of the remaining vote. The constitutional restriction on Presidents serving more than ten years was not addressed. With a significant portion of the country's vote nullified, especially in areas where Ouattara polled well, tensions mounted in the country. Gbagbo ordered the army to close the borders and foreign news organizations were banned from broadcasting from within the country. United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the government to "act responsibly and peacefully."
Gbagbo declared that "I will continue to work with all the countries of the world, but I will never give up our sovereignty." Gbagbo is accused of committing many atrocities against regime opponents. Ouattara's forces have also been accused of mass killings. Sporadic violence and gunfire were reported in various parts of the country, including Abidjan. Gbagbo is mainly supported by the largely Christian south; his opponents are mostly concentrated in the Muslim north.
Ouattara also took a parallel oath of office, based on an earlier pronouncement by the CEI that he won the election. The international community, including the African Union, recognized Ouattara as the duly elected president and called for Gbagbo to respect the will of the people. ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, also recognized Ouattara and demanded Gbagbo cede power. Gbagbo responded by launching ethnic attacks on northerners living in Abidjan with his army made up partly of Liberian mercenaries, and rumours (unconfirmed because of restrictions on the movement of peacekeeping forces) of pro-Gbagbo death squads and mass graves have been reported to representatives of the UN. When Nigeria demanded Gbagbo step down and the EU began imposing sanctions and freezing assets, Gbagbo demanded foreign troops (by which he meant UN and French troops) leave the country. Leaders of the Forces Nouvelles (former rebels) asserted that Gbagbo was not the Head of State and could not make such a request and also asserted that the demand was a part of a plan to commit genocide on ethnicities from the north of the country, as stated by Gbagbo's Minister of Youth and Employment.
On 11 April 2011, forces loyal to Ouattara supported by the French and UN army moved to seize Gbagbo at his residence in Abidjan after failed negotiations to end the presidential succession crisis. According to Ouattara, his forces established a security perimeter at the residence, where Gbagbo had sought refuge in a subterranean level, and were waiting for him to run out of food and water. The UN had insisted that he be arrested, judged and tried for crimes against humanity during his term and since the election of Ouattara.
On 10 April 2011, UN and French helicopters fired on heavy weapons located in Gbagbo's residency in order to prevent attacks on civilians or UN personnel (some claim this excuse was false because a coup d'état was taking place).
Arrest and transfer to the International Criminal Court
It was reported that Gbagbo was arrested on the afternoon of 11 April 2011. Gbagbo was held in the Golf Hotel by Ouattara's forces, but the UN police had accepted his request for their protection. Initial reports indicated that French special forces had made the arrest, based on declarations by a Gbagbo aide, but it was denied by the French ambassador in Côte d'Ivoire. A French military spokesman later asserted that French forces did not enter Gbagbo's residence albeit they did enter. After briefing the United Nations Security Council on the situation, Alain Le Roy, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, confirmed to reporters that Ouattara forces made the arrest. But there have been persistent reports from Alain Toussaint, Gbagbo's Special Advisor in France, that French forces did indeed make the arrest possible namely by blasting open the corridor that linked the presidential residence to the French embassy in Abidjan, enabling pro-Outtara forces to move in quickly to seize Gbagbo. Gbagbo had the tunnel blocked with concrete as soon as he came to power in 2000, marking his political independence to France, the former colonial master.
Later speaking from inside the Golf Hotel in Abidjan, Gbagbo told the regular armies to stop fighting. U.S. President Barack Obama cheered news of the latest developments in Côte d'Ivoire and CNN quoted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as saying Gbagbo's capture "sends a strong signal to dictators and tyrants. ... They may not disregard the voice of their own people".
In October 2011, the International Criminal Court opened an investigation into acts of violence committed during the conflict after the election, and ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo visited the country. The ICC formally issued an arrest warrant for Gbagbo, charging him with four counts of crimes against humanity – murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution and "other inhuman acts", allegedly committed between 16 December 2010 and 12 April 2011, although many supporters allege that it is not true. Gbagbo was arrested in Korhogo, where he had been placed under house arrest, and was placed on a flight to The Hague on 29 November 2011 without knowing where he was being led to. An adviser to Gbagbo described the arrest as "victors' justice".
The ICC's confirmation of charges hearing for Gbagbo was scheduled for 18 June 2012, but was postponed to 13 August 2012, to give his defense team more time to prepare. The hearing was then postponed indefinitely, citing concerns over Gbagbo's health. The prosecutor is supposed to hand in a new document containing the charges in mid-January 2014. The PTC has decided it will only accept written submissions and then it has 60 days to decide upon whether or not to confirm the charges.
In September 2013, a court in Ghana rejected a request to extradite a senior ally of former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, Justin Kone Katinan, saying the warrant issued by Ivorian authorities was politically motivated.
His trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague began on 28 January 2016, where he denied all charges against him; crimes against humanity including murder, rape and persecution, as did his co-accused Charles Blé Goudé.